Poetry Cable from Moscow

August 22, 2012 by So to Speak
Filed under: Music, Opinion, Starring Local Feminists 

by Jill Leininger

“The word is more sincere than concrete, so words are not trifles. Once noble people mobilize, their words will crush concrete.”–Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Maria Alekhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot were held without bail for their February 21, 2012 protest performance in the Christ the Savior Cathedral after the election of Vladmir Putin.  On March 3rd, they were arrested. On August 17th, they were found guilty. Here is a summary of the protest in their words:

“The fact that Christ the Savior Cathedral had become a significant symbol in the political strategy of our powers-that-be was already clear to many thinking people when Vladimir Putin’s former [KGB] colleague Kirill Gundyaev took over as head of the Russian Orthodox Church. After this happened, Christ the Savior Cathedral began to be used openly as a flashy setting for the politics of the security services, which are the main source of power [in Russia]…Our sudden musical appearance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior with the song ‘Mother of God, Drive Putin Out’ violated the integrity of this media image, generated and maintained by the authorities for so long, and revealed its falsity.” From Yekaterina Samutsevich’s (Katya’s) closing statement at the trial, August 8, 2012  Video here.

“I thought the church loves all its children, but it appears that the church only loves those who vote for Putin,” said Maria Alekhina (Masha). Read more in Masha Lipman’s New Yorker article.

“[We are not happy with] the enforced civic passivity of the bulk of the population or the complete domination of executive structures over the legislature and judiciary.” from Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s (Nadia’s) closing statement, August 8, 2012 Read more. Video here.

If you’ve read the statements in full, you’ll know that the women chose not to use their precious opportunity to speak in order to plead for mercy but rather to continue to try and forge understanding of their intentions and discontent.  After being held for four months without a single hearing, they used it as a platform for continued protest, raising questions about their unjust persecution and the systems that were allowing it.

The strength of these women is inspiring. Even though they expected the guilty sentence, they claim victory despite it.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the Russian media is calling the women’s speech both childish and naïve—and one need only look at the comment fields in the blogosphere to see that the urge to put these women back in their obedient ballerina boxes is a very real and pervasive force, and one that exists regardless of national and political circumstance.

For a slice of the local anger, just check out the level of discussion after Amnesty International’s DC rally in support of Pussy Riot; reactions range from ogling the women protesters to calling the international outcry for a fair trial “ridiculous.”  And the comments on David Remnick’s New Yorker article aren’t much better.   One of his readers responded “Must we care?”

I’m reposting some of these links because I think we have as much to learn from our culture’s response to provocative protest as we do from the action itself.  The flurry of online posts alternately makes Pussy Riot into saints and prostitutes.  (Even Sarah Nicole Prickett’s article in Toronto’s Globe and Mail, which challenges Western nations’ apathy to protest directly and eloquently, called the women’s courtroom statements “art-house torture porn.”)

Of course, it must be said that their plight has been amplified through several celebrity fist-pumps, including the much-publicized Madonna body stencil.  Less famous artists are also staging their own performances in support: British playwright EV Crowe staged readings of the court testimonies at the Royal Court the day the verdict was announced.

Crowe is quoted in the Guardian as saying: “What Pussy Riot does is take a stand, through art, and then maximize its impact through social media. They are women who make me want to understand the world I’m living in, to write about it, and to be brave whatever the cost.”

Nadia, Masha and Katya were sentenced to 2 years in prison and the potential loss of custody of their children.  For 51 seconds of protest.   On a charge of “hooliganism” and blasphemy.

Yet they continue to demonstrate the power of language as a vital force for feminism and change.  “Let us enter into dialogue and contact with the country, which is ours too, not just Putin’s and the Patriarch’s,” said Nadia in her closing statement.  “Like Solzhenitsyn, I believe that in the end, words will crush concrete.”

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Jill Leininger is a poet living in Arlington, VA.  She is eating mashed potatoes with habanero sauce right now.  Follow her on twitter @CongressofFish.

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Note from Blog Editor, Sheila M

Balance out the cruel voices demeaning women’s rights, international human rights, and political art by adding YOUR strong, feminist voice to the blogosphere.  Copy and paste, edit, revise, add more to the sentences below and take part in the conversation about Pussy Riot on any website you see an unequal tilt against supportive voices. We don’t have to be mean or rude in our comments, but we have to be smart.

I am a feminist and believe in the right to participate in peaceful forms of free speech. I support the actions of Pussy Riot. The verdict against them is unfair and ignores human rights. Not only is this judgement and backlash against Pussy Riot violence against human rights, it is violence against women. And no matter where these women live, women everywhere, all over the world, feel the negative repercussions. The women in Pussy Riot are strong examples of intelligent, innovative, and brave people who have risked and given so much to demand fair and equal treatment.

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